By Vanessa Borchers and Amita Kasbekar

Though emerging markets are defined by their potential for impact on the global business stage, many are lagging in what studies have shown as one of the more important elements for success—gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2010, several emerging market countries were ranked the lowest in terms of female representation in business, such as Brazil (35%) and Turkey (26%). The country with the lowest female representation in business among the emerging market countries—at just 23 percent— is India.

Many women in these markets have demonstrated some remarkable qualities—but their talents, skills and resources remain underutilized. In India, we see a region where opportunities for women abound, but significant challenges still exist to realizing a larger impact on the global business stage.

According to a Deloitte Consulting India Pvt. Ltd sponsored study by Working Mother Media, Professional Women in India: Changing Social Expectations and Best Practices for Global Corporations, women in India face many barriers to make it to the top and are at times resigning due to cultural and social pressures. This study also reveals that only 18 percent of Indian women are part of the public and private sector labor in the country.

Interestingly, the same report by Working Mother Media also revealed that 40 percent of students enrolled in colleges in India are women, and are pursuing degrees that can lead to more sought-after professional careers. The inability of Indian businesses to leverage this invaluable talent pool in a market where skilled talent is increasingly difficult to find, can and may create significant challenges for the long-term competitiveness of businesses and of the overall Indian economy. There is a clear and urgent need to bring Indian women into the workforce and help them build long-term sustainable careers that offer strong growth potential. One example of such an effort is the work done by Deloitte Consulting India Pvt. Ltd (Deloitte U.S. India).

In 2006, Deloitte U.S. India implemented The Women’s Initiative (WIN), a program geared towards attracting, retaining and advancing women professionals in their careers. WIN has enhanced the gender leadership and advancement pipeline through gender sensitization and workplace flexibility, in addition to growing campus recruitment among women-only colleges.

Since the implementation of WIN, women have become an integral part of Deloitte U.S. India’s overall growth. For example, the operation and integration of its offices in India was led by a senior woman leader.

In just two years, from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of women at manager and above in Deloitte U.S. India has risen significantly. The gender ratio of campus hires is at 50:50.

The progression at WIN is a testament to Deloitte U.S. India’s commitment to gender inclusivity and equity at the workplace. According to the Corporate Gender Gap 2010 survey, women-specific mentorship programs are relatively high in India as compared to other emerging markets. For its part, Deloitte U.S. India has launched several programs focused on mentorship across its various locations. The Apprenticeship Program offers sponsors to women employees to grow and succeed within the organization. Through “Men and Women at Work: Teaming for Success,” Deloitte U.S. India aims to raise awareness of gender differences at the workplace and fosters an inclusive environment.

Today, Deloitte U.S. India employs more than 13,500 professionals in India from different cultures, religions, languages, and Indian ethnicities—a slice of a business environment bursting with opportunities for women. The future for woman leadership in India is bright thanks to a strong predilection to give women professionals the support they need to succeed.

Vanessa Borchers,Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited Global Leader, WIN/Diversity, has worked with various DTTL member firms for the past 20 years, in South Africa, the United States, and the Netherlands. In her prior member firm roles, she served large multinational companies in various industries and capacities. Amita Kasbekar is the WIN leader in Deloitte U.S. India’s offices. She has over 25 years experience in areas of talent management, retention strategies, business, and diversity management.